First there was wine, beloved by the ancients. Then there was wine gone bad  – a mishap of leaky casks or stashes gone past their prime that mutated into one of the most versatile products in the world. “Vin aigre” (which roughly translates to “sour wine”) is a combination of acetic acid (aka ethanoic acid)  — an organic compound which is the result of the miracle of fermentation — chemical reactions activated by the slow decay of everything from grapes to beets, malts to grains.

Chemical formula of oxidative fermentation.

Chemical formula of oxidative fermentation: The making of acetic acid.

Apples, rice, and honey all produce distinctive vinegars. Used as a condiment and cooking liquid — vinegar is the base for multiple marinades, vinaigrettes and pickling.

Kimchi, Sauerkraut and Kosher dill pickles are only a few of the tasty vinegar-preserved treats developed all around the globe. Apple cider vinegar is used in natural healing, its ability to break down fats, mucous and phlegm makes it particular suited to detoxifying. Those same acidic properties make vinegar efficient for household cleaning as well, dissolving soap scum and stains and combined with baking soda — makes a powerful unclogging agent.

Vintage vinegar label. (Image courtesy Museum Port Huron, Michigan)

An early fruit vinegar label. (Image courtesy Museum Port Huron, Michigan)

Some of the most popular types of vinegar are white wine, rice, malt and Balsamic vinegar. True balsamics are produced only in Modena Italy, where a particular grape, the Trebbiano, has been harvested for generations to create this distinct and very rare vinegar. Look for the real deal “Modena Balsamic” in specialty shops – as most supermarket labels reading “balsamic” are merely less-nuanced reproductions.

Modern distilleries produce vinegar through both a slow or fast fermentation — the longer “slow” process allows for a non-toxic ‘mother’ to form, a sort of slimy residue comprised of acetic acid bacteria and cellulose. That ‘mother’ is also used as a kind of ‘kick start’ in the formation of ‘fast’ process vinegar, as well as for kombucha — which uses yeast and bacteria to produce a drinking vinegar rich in nutrients.

Burgoyne's Vinegar Essence.

Burgoyne’s Universal Concentrated Vinegar Essence.

Vinegar, with all its many uses, has a long and fascinating history. During the Black Plague thieves used vinegar to protect them from germs as they stole from the dead. During the Civil War, vinegar — a natural antibiotic, was used to heal wounds. Roman Legionaries drank it before going into battle. It was used by sailors to preserve foods for long voyages and also for swabbing the decks. Cleopatra — after making a bet that she could “consume a fortune in a single meal” — dissolved a pearl in a glass of vinegar and drank it. Clever girl!


  1. Nins
    Posted February 4, 2010 at 2:12 AM | Permalink

    Highly recommend: crema di vinegar

  2. InKa
    Posted February 4, 2010 at 7:04 PM | Permalink

    Yes, I agree: crema di balsamico is delicious on tomato/mozarella salat, strawberrys etc. Apple vinegar is indeed a vital bomb of vitamins, minerals, trace elements, potassium, calcium and magnesium. And not only Cleopatra was clever enough to love the versatile use of the vinegar, but also the famous general Hannibal and the Babylonians. Meanwhile, it is an essential part of wellness-drinks.

  3. Jay jay jay
    Posted February 15, 2010 at 12:13 PM | Permalink

    I recently had white balsamic vinegar. Quite lovely. That article made my mouth water.

  4. Posted February 22, 2010 at 12:49 AM | Permalink

    You mention that sauerkraut and Kosher dills are made with vinegar. Traditionally these are both lacto-fermented and do not contain vinegar. Lots of other (non-"Kosher") pickles are indeed made in vinegar, but I'd probably call you a cheater if you made your sauerkraut with vinegar.

  5. Posted February 24, 2010 at 10:24 AM | Permalink

    Hi Jonathan –
    You are right indeed that many sauerkrauts and dill pickles are made using a salt-based brine – but this process is not the only one used for either foodstuff. Salt brine/lacto-fermented foods are actually a whole other fascinating topic (we'll do a story!). Vinegar-based pickling, however is wonderful alternative to salt-brine. With vinegar-based pickling, vegetables can be cured for several hours in a vinegar solution and immediately combined with spices, and seasonings. Examples of this include dills, bread-and-butter pickles and pickled beets. Here is one of my favorite vinegar based dill pickle recipes here –….

    Totally delicious!

    As far as Sauerkrauts – there are some great recipes which incorporate apple cider vinegars -which adds a nice bite to traditional salted cabbage recipes. See here –…. Thanks for your comment and yes, we will be sure to explore salt brine/Lacto-fermentation in the future!

  6. Mary Kyte
    Posted January 8, 2012 at 3:00 PM | Permalink

    Hello I am searching to buy Essence of Vinegar but nobody seems to keep in stock anymore – I have used for many years to remove my sun spots etc

  7. Posted April 29, 2015 at 1:43 PM | Permalink

    Thank you for this great article! Essence of vinegar is a great cleaning solution, it can help remove mildew and grime and prevent mold and water damage.

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared.

Click here to subscribe (via RSS) to the comments of this post.